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THE CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHT TO FINAL ADDRESS

Dictum

My Lords, I had the opportunity of addressing this type of anomaly in Kalu v. State (2017) LPELR – 42101 (SC). Speaking for this Court, I held that: “… it is undeniable that Section 294 (1) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria consecrates the right to final addresses, Sodipo v. Lemminkainen Oy [1985] 2 NWLR (pt 8) 547; Mustapha v. Governor of Lagos State [1987] 2 NWLR (pt 58) 539; Ijebu Ode v. Balogun and Company Ltd (1991) LPELR – 1463 (SC) 31- 32; F-A; Okeke v. State (2003) LPELR – 2436 (SC) 19 -20; F-A. The said expression ‘final addresses’ means the last or ultimate speech or submission made to the Court in respect of the matter before it, before the delivery of the judgment. Put simply, it is the last address before the delivery of the judgment, Sodipo v. Lemminkainen Oy (supra); Mustapha v. Governor of Lagos State (supra); Ijebu Ode v. Balogun and Company Ltd (supra); Okeke v. State (supra). It [final address] is the penultimate part of the three most important portions of the trial period; the first, being the hearing of the evidence; while the last is the judgement, Okeke v. State(2003) LPELR -2436 (SC) 19 -20; F-A. Such is its pedestal in the administration of justice that when counsel or a party is denied this right [that is, of address], the trial Court is, equally, deprived of its enormous benefits. Its inevitable consequence is that a miscarriage of justice has been occasioned, Okafor and Ors v. A.G., Anambra and Ors (1991) LPELR -2414 (SC) 28; A-C; Obodo v. Olomu [1987] 3 NWLR (pt.59) 111; Adigun v. A-G of Oyo State (supra). This explains why a party must have the same right as given to his adversary to offer, by his counsel, the final address on the law in support of his case, Ndukauba v. Kolomo and Anor (2005) LPELR -1976 (SC) 12; A-D. It would thus seem obvious that, the draftsperson of this section [Section 294] had in mind the eloquent views of a distinguished American Jurist, Dillon, who observed in his Laws and Jurisprudence of England and America that: “I feel reasonably assured of my judgment where I have heard counsel, and a very diminished faith where the case has not been orally argued, for mistakes, errors, fallacies and flaws elude us in spite of ourselves unless the case is pounded and hammered at the Bar…” [Italics supplied for emphasis] Now, prior to the evolution of brief writing in various Rules of our Courts, counsel, actually, ‘pounded and hammered [their arguments] at the Bar.’ In place of that practice which has now fallen into desuetude, one of the new features introduced by these rules is the concept of advocacy in writing, that is, brief writing, whose main purpose is to curtail the time that should have been wasted in lengthy oral arguments, Onifade v. Olayiwola and Ors (1990) 7 NWLR (pt 161) 130, 160: oral arguments in which verbose counsel beat out the bush, Omojasola v. Plison Fisko Nig.Ltd and Ors (1990) 5 NWLR (Pt 151) 434, 441. Thus, although oratorical prowess was previously a great asset in advocacy, due to the great changes which have been wrought in the Court rules, proficiency in the presentation of briefs has taken the place of brilliancy in oral advocacy, Gaamstac Eng. Ltd and Anor v. FCDA (1988) 4 NWLR (pt 88) 296, 305-306. [per Nweze, JSC in Kalu v. State (supra) 9 et seq].

— Chima Centus Nweze, JSC. State v. Andrew Yanga (SC.712/2018, 15 Jan 2021)

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DENIAL OF PARTY TO GIVE FINAL ADDRESS MAY RENDER ENTIRE PROCEEDING VOID

In the case of Ndu v. State (1990) 7 NWLR (Pt. 164) 550 at 560, it was held that the hearing of address from counsel before delivery of judgment is an important exercise in the judicial proceedings in our courts and the denial of that right to a party may render the entire proceedings a nullity if a miscarriage of justice occurs. It is my very view that the judgment entered in favour of the respondent against the appellant without the latter closing its case and presenting through its counsel its final address is a serious violation of the appellant’s right to fair hearing, which renders the entire proceedings a nullity. This being the position, it is not necessary to consider whether the damages awarded can be justified.

— Opene JCA. United Bank for Africa (UBA) v. Samuel Igelle Ujor (CA/C/134/99, 20 FEB 2001)

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FINAL ADDRESS CANNOT FILL THE PLACE OF EVIDENCE

That counsel in the guise of final address or brief of argument cannot lead evidence to fill any lacuna in his client’s case. He is not permitted to do so … Final addresses, no matter how brilliantly they are couched cannot constitute evidence and they are not intended to be so: NWADAIRO v. SPDC (1990) 5 NWLR (pt.150) 322 at 339; ODUBEKO v. FOWLER (1993) 1 NWLR (pt. 308) 637; ISHOLA v. AJIBOYE (1998) 1 NWLR (pt. 532) 71 at 93 ARO v. ARO (2000) 14 WRN 51 at 56.

— E. Eko, JSC. Lawali v State (2019) – SC.272/2017

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FINAL ADDRESS IS AN IMPORTANT STAGE BEFORE JUDGEMENT DELIVERY

There is no gainsaying the fact that the provision donates to litigating parties the right to render final addresses at the closure of evidence and before judgment. Final address connotes “the last or ultimate speech or submission made to the Court in respect of issue before it, before the delivery of judgment. It is the last address before the delivery of judgment”. see Ijebu-Ode L.G. v. Adedeji Balogun & Co. (1991) 1 NWLR (Pt. 166) 136 at 156, per Karibi-Whyte, JSC, Sodipo v. Lemminkainen Oy (1985) 2 NWLR (Pt. 8) 547; Mustapha v. Governor of Lagos State (1987) 2 NWLR (Pt. 58) 539; Kalu v. State (2017) 14 NWLR (Pt. 1586) 522. The caustic effect of denial of addresses to parties vis-a-vis proceedings is wrapped in Ndu v. State (1990) 7 NWLR (Pt. 164) 550, (1990) 21 NSCC (Pt. 3) 505. Therein Akpata, JSC, succinctly, stated: It is generally accepted that the hearing of addresses from counsel before delivery of judgment is an important exercise in judicial proceedings in our Courts. The entire proceedings may be declared a nullity if a counsel is denied the right to address the Court at the close of evidence. See also, Obodo v. Olomu (1987) 3 NWLR (Pt. 59) 111/(1987) 2 NSCC, vol. 18, 824 at 831; Niger Construction Co. Ltd. v. Okugbeni (1987) 11/12 SCNJ 113/(1987) 4 NWLR (Pt. 67) 787; Ayisa v. Akanji (1995) 7 NWLR (Pt. 406) 129; Kalu v. State (supra).

— O.F. Ogbuinya JCA. Stanbic IBTC Bank Plc v. Longterm Global Cap. Ltd. & Ors. (September 20 2021, ca/l/1093/2017)

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ADDRESS OF COUNSEL ARE INTEGRAL PART OF THE TRIAL

In Obodo v. Olomu (1987) 3 NWLR (Pt.59) 111 at page 121, Belgore, JSC, observed as follows: “Addresses of counsel form part of the case and failure to hear the address of one party, however overwhelming the evidence on the one side, vitiates the trial because in many cases, it is after the addresses that one finds the law on the issue fought not in favour of the evidence adduced … By holding that the decision could not have been different if all the address were before the trial court, the Court of Appeal was attempting to read the mind of the trial Judge. He heard the evidence and saw the witnesses, the addresses might have thrown a new light on his view on the evidence. For a totality of a case heard entails not only the evidence but also the addresses.” At pages 123 and124, Obaseki, JSC, stated:- “The hearing of addresses by every court established by the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria is recognised by the constitution. It is to be given before judgment. See section 258 (1) – “Its beneficial effect and impact on the merit of the case is enormous and unquantifiable. The value is immense and its assistance to the Judge in arriving at just and proper decision though dependent on the quality of the address cannot be denied … until the learned trial Judge’s mind is exposed to an address, no one can say what effect it will have on his mind. It cannot be said that in the light of the above, the failure to hear the address of counsel for the plaintiff has not occasioned a miscarriage of justice. It certainly has not served the interest of justice. Miscarriage of justice vitiates a judgment and renders it a nullity.”

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THE RIGHT TO FINAL ADDRESS IS PROTECTED BY THE CONSTITUTION

Now, it is undeniable that Section 294 (1) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria consecrates the right to final addresses. Sodipo v. Lemminkainen Oy [1985] 2 NWLR (pt 8) 547; Mustapha v. Governor of Lagos State (1987) 2 NWLR (Pt. 58) 539; Ijebu Ode v. Balogun and Company Ltd. (1991) LPELR 1463 (SC) 31-32; F-A; Okeke v. State (2003) LPELR-2436 (SC) 19-20; F-A. The said expression “final addresses” means the last or ultimate speech or submission made to the Court in respect of the matter before it, before the delivery of the judgment. Put simply, it is the last address before the delivery of the judgment. Sodipo v. Leminkainen Oy (supra); Mustapha v. Governor of Lagos State (supra); Ijebu Ode v. Balogun and Company Ltd (supra); Okeke v. State (supra). It [final address] is the penultimate part of the three most important portions of the trial period; the first, being the hearing of the evidence; while the last is the judgment, Okeke v. State (2003) LPELR-2436 (SC) 19-20; F-A. Such is its pedestal in the administration of justice that when counsel or a party is denied this right [that is, of address], the trial Court is equally deprived of its enormous benefits. Its inevitable consequence is that a miscarriage of justice has been occasioned. Okafor and Ors v. A.G., Anambra and Ors (1991) LPELR-2414 (SC) 28; A-C; Obodo v. Olomu (1987) 3 NWLR (Pt. 59) 111; Adigun v. A-G of Oyo State (supra). This explains why a party must have the same right as given to his adversary to offer, by his counsel, the final address on the law in support of his case. Ndukauba v. Kolomo and Anor (2005) LPELR-1976 (SC) 12; A-D. It would thus seem obvious that the draftsperson of this section [Section 294] had in mind the eloquent views of a distinguished American Jurist, Dillon, who observed in his Laws and Jurisprudence of England and America that; “I feel reasonably assured of my judgment where I have heard counsel, and a very diminished faith where the case has not been orally argued, for mistakes, errors, fallacies and flaws elude us in Spite of ourselves unless the case is pounded and hammered at the Bar…”

— C.C. Nweze JSC. Onuwa Kalu v. The State (SC.474/2011, 13 Apr 2017)

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FINAL ADDRESS OF COUNSEL IS ALWAYS RELEVANT

Learned counsel for the respondent had argued that a trial Judge can in certain circumstances dispense with final addresses and that one of such circumstances is where, as in this case, the facts are straightforward and in the main not in dispute. Reference was made to: Niger Construction Company Ltd. v. Okugbeni (1987) 11/12 SCNJ 135 at 139; Donatus Ndu v. The State (1990) 12 SCNJ 50 at 60. Nemi and Ors. v. The State (1994) 10 SCNJ 1. He submitted that in the present case, the facts are straightforward and that the evidence of the plaintiff is undisputed and that addresses in the circumstances would have been a mere formality and that there is nothing to show that the appellantsuffered a miscarriage of justice as a result of the counsel not addressing the court. I have read the cases cited by the respondent’s counsel and it appears to me that those cases are not in line with the current decisions of the Supreme Court and this court as well. This case is not straightforward as the respondent’s counsel had submitted. I must observe that a trial court does not call for addresses just for a fun or as a matter of course. An address is a part and parcel of the trial and its immense and enormous value is unquantifiable and its absence can tilt the balance of the trial court’s judgment as much as the delivery of an address after the conclusion of evidence can. It will be therefore erroneous on the part of the court to hold that a case is straightforward, that an address is not necessary or that even if an address was delivered, that the decision could not be different as this is nothing more than a mere speculation.

— Opene JCA. United Bank for Africa (UBA) v. Samuel Igelle Ujor (CA/C/134/99, 20 FEB 2001)

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